Premier David Alward's cabinet shuffle Thursday is seen by one political scientist to be dividing the provincial government's front bench into two tiers.
Significant changes include Health Minister Ted Flemming taking on the additional role of Attorney General and Deputy Premier Paul Robichaud moves from Economic Development to the Department of Natural Resources.
Finance Minister Blaine Higgs and Energy Minister Craig Leonard were left untouched in their powerful roles in cabinet.
Tom Bateman, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said he sees the shuffle as "a reset" that sets aside four ministers as key players.
"It looks like Mr. Robichaud, Mr. Flemming, Mr. Higgs and Mr. Leonard are really part of the A team in cabinet," said Bateman.
Political reaction was swift and cynical about the premier's decision to shake up his cabinet.
"This is just an effort to try to deal with the poor poll results that premier is seeing in recent weeks," said New Democratic Party Leader Dominic Cardy.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant pointed out that Alward didn't add any new MLAs to his cabinet.
"It's simply making sure that they have something new to talk about, try to change the channel," Gallant said.
In a public opinion poll released Sept. 5 by Corporate Research Associates, the Progressive Conservatives and NDP were each at about 23 per cent of decided voters, well behind the Liberals with 47 per cent.
The next provincial election is set for September 2014.
Green Party Leader David Coon said the timing of Thursday's cabinet shuffle should come as no surprise.
"It's so predictable you can almost set your watch that there's going to be a cabinet shuffle leading up to an election," said Coon.